Book briefing -- recent nonfiction; Deep Blues, by Robert Palmer. New York: The Viking Press. $14.95.
In case all you refugees from or throwbacks to the dances of the 1940s thought there was only one kind of jitterburg, be advised there was another jitterburg before that: a one-stringed homemade musical instrument of the same name. It was played by children in the American South, and it was the first stringed instrument mastered by many early blues guitarists. Rhythmic patterns derived from folk drumming appear to have been transferred through the jitterburg to the development of the blues. And the blues, whether in feeling or musical structure, have so thoroughly infused jazz, rock, and other music that people around the world hear echoes of the jitterburg every day without knowing it.
These are the paths that Robert Palmer takes us on, delving into the lowly and often seamy circumstances out of which an extraordinary popular art from arose; detailing the way black blues musicians overcame odds to burnish their skills; citing influences such as the illiteracy that may have prompted acute listening and thus led to the microtuned shadings of pitch that mean so much in the blues. The words of blues people themselves weave in and out of the narrative.
Like so many fruits of human talent, the blues have been used corruptly as well as benignly. At their best they repay the searching scrutiny of "Deep Blues."